Obesity and Your Child

Childhood obesity is on the rise. In fact, many experts consider it an epidemic. If your child has been diagnosed as obese, it’s not too late. There are a number of things you can do as a parent to help your child turn their life around. In fact, this may be the most powerful lesson you can give your child.

Goal Setting

One of the most difficult aspects of obesity to manage is the fact that it feels like an overwhelming problem. Children have a lot on their minds. They have peer pressure and pressure to perform at school. They’re dealing with hormones, learning about themselves and the pressures of home. It’s a lot to handle. Top it off with a weight problem and it can be too much.

This is a great opportunity to teach your child that they’re in control and how to set goals. The key is to sit down together and create visionary goals supported by achievable goals. Visionary goals are goals that look to the future. They’re the “Where would you like to be in two years, five years, ten years from now?” question.

However, visionary goals are just dreams if they don’t have supporting goals that are achievable. For many children, the supporting goals have to be small. They need to be goals like, “lose five pounds in thirty days.” These supporting goals are essential because they’ll teach your child that they can accomplish anything. They establish a pattern of success. As your child becomes confident in themselves and their ability to achieve success, they’ll set harder goals. It’s a great process to watch.

Once your child has created their goals, your job as a parent is to guide them to create processes to succeed. Ask them how they’re going to lose those five pounds in thirty days. Maybe you can work together to lose it. You can ride bikes together or cook healthy meals together. Children need to learn they can accomplish anything but they need their parents for guidance and support.

Positive Daily Habits

One of the best ways to support your child to turn their obesity around is to embrace positive daily habits. It’s difficult to eliminate a bad habit if you don’t have a positive one to replace it. Focus on one small habit at a time. For example, if your child always has a bowl of ice cream when they get home from school, replace that with a healthy snack and a good conversation.

It usually takes three to four weeks for a new habit to take hold. Be supportive and be present. Once your child has mastered one new positive habit, create another one together. Eventually, your child will be spending their days focused on good habits. All the unhealthy habits will have been replaced.

Find Time for Fun

It’s a sure bet that if overcoming obesity is all work and no fun, your child is likely going to give up. We all need to have fun. That means playing, laughing, and having the occasional food treat. The ultimate goal is to teach healthy habits and moderation. That doesn’t mean your child can never have a bowl of ice cream ever again. Help them learn how to have fun, how to make healthy decisions and how to gain control over their life.

It may take a while to reverse obesity, but the lessons your child learns along the way will be powerful life lessons they’ll have with them always.


How to Talk to Your Child about Healthy Eating without Pressure

It’s tough as a parent to instill healthy eating values in your child. At school and around their friends they’re surrounded by mixed messages. Additionally, children tend to rebel if a message is pushed too heavily. Here’s how to talk to your child about healthy eating.

#1 Look for teachable moments – If you’re constantly drilling your child with why it’s important to eat healthy, they’re going to block you out. However, when you discuss healthy eating during key teachable moments, it can really have an impact.

For example, you’re at the store and another child’s face is covered with sticky goo. The child is misbehaving and having a real meltdown. You can quietly explain to your child that sometimes too much sugar makes a person not feel right. When young children feel like that they usually lose control of their emotions and can behave poorly.

Or if your child doesn’t eat a healthy breakfast and then comes home feeling poorly, you can explain that if they’d eaten better, they’d probably feel better. Then together, you can make a plan to eat a better breakfast the next day.

Children often listen when they have an example or experience to relate the conversation to. Waiting for those teaching moments can have a far greater impact than a lecture about healthy eating.

#2 Show, don’t tell – It’s important to be a good role model. If you preach about the dangers of sugar and then your children see you eat a bag of cookies, you’re not practicing what you preach. Instead, eat healthy yourself and explain to your children why you choose to eat healthy. Make sure it’s about health and not body image or weight. Children get enough pressure to look perfect without it coming from their parents.

#3 Media – There are positive media messages to be experienced. When someone your child respects or trusts is discussing health, share that message with your child. Perhaps a book on taking care of themselves is a good gift, or share appropriate movies with them. The movie “Super Size Me” is a good movie for middle aged children to watch.

Be sure, when talking about healthy eating to your children, that you leave room for fun. Children understand the benefits of fruits, vegetables and whole grain. They also know they like cookies, candy and snacks. Help guide them to make smart decisions by allowing the occasional treat. They’re more likely to grow into healthy adults if they’re allowed to enjoy food and appreciate its many benefits.


How to Create a Positive Self-Image In Children

With all the media messages surrounding our children, it’s amazing that they grow up to be healthy. And children today are exposed to more media messages than ever before. They watch more television, see more music videos and advertisements and they play more video and computer games. It’s tough to develop a positive self-image when you’re constantly looking at perfection. It’s the job of parents to help their children feel good about themselves. Here are a few tips to help you navigate these often difficult waters.

#1 Be a good role model. There’s nothing harder on a child than hearing a parent berate themselves for the way they look. It’s important that parents at least put up a good front and demonstrate a positive self-image. Children learn by example. If you love your body and are content with the way you look, your child will be more likely to follow your example. They know they come from you and if you’re happy with your appearance, then they should be too.

#2 Show them reality. More and more models are standing up and saying, “We’re airbrushed.” They’re providing real life photos and allowing comparison to the magazine photos. This is a great teaching moment. Young children, girls and boys, look up to their role models. Help your children understand that what they see on television isn’t reality. It’s great lighting, professional make-up and clothing, plastic surgery, and little photography tricks called filters and airbrushing or editing.

Boys are just as much at risk as girls. Boys often worship or look up to professional athletes. It’s important to explain to boys that in addition to the magazine photos being emphasized, painted and airbrushed, many athletes take unnatural measures to achieve their physical results. These unnatural measures, like steroids or working out eight hours a day, are not normal or healthy.

#3 Help your child find what’s beautiful about them. We all likely have something we’d like to change. Maybe it’s our nose, our hair or our height. However, we also all have things we like about ourselves. Help your child find what they like about themselves. Maybe they like their eyes, or their smile, or their beautiful red hair. Help them focus on the positive things about themselves and to forget about the rest. Everyone is perfect just as they are.

When children can realize that they’re perfect exactly the way they are, they’ll grow up to be strong and confident adults. They’ll be able to manage the occasional bumps and bruises to their ego because they know that deep down, they’re beautiful.


How to Make Moving Fun And Natural

Children, like adults, need to move their bodies to keep them strong and healthy. When children learn these habits, they’ll likely take them into adulthood with them. However, if children learn to dislike or even hate exercise they’ll also take that attitude with them into adulthood. It’s important to make moving fun and a part of daily life. Here are a few tips and suggestions to make moving fun and natural.

#1 Focus on fun. Some children are naturally coordinated and will enjoy sports. Other children are not and sports may be a source of embarrassment, struggle and pain. Find activities that your child enjoys that involve moving. Often it’s just a matter of getting them outside. Take your child for daily walks with the dog. Ask your child what sports they enjoy. If they enjoy running, consider signing them up for soccer. If they enjoy individual sports, consider golf or tennis.

#2 Make movement part of their daily life. It helps to make physical exercise a habit. Of course you can’t call it “exercise” or a child won’t want to do it. Consider, if you live close enough, having your child ride their bike to school. Have it be your child’s responsibility to walk the dog every afternoon.

If they’re too young to manage these responsibilities by themselves, then have a parent or older sibling go along with them. When moving is also family bonding or one-on-one time with a parent, children will look forward to the daily event.

#3 Make it a game. Children love to play games. Adults do too, when you think about it. Make moving your body a game. The new video games are a good way to add exercise into a week, for example the Wii. However, it’s also important to get outside. Sunshine and fresh air do wonders for a child’s health. Encourage them to climb trees, do cartwheels or play kick the can. It may be a simple game or activity but they’re moving their body and getting exercise.

#4 Take lessons. Children often want to learn new things. That’s part of the joy of being a child. Sign them up for martial arts lessons, dance lessons, swimming lessons or other physical activities they might enjoy. Help them learn about their body and become comfortable with it by exploring new activities.

When children develop a habit of moving their body at a young age, they won’t stop. They’ll grow up physically active and they’ll take those lessons into adulthood with them. As parents, it’s our job to support our children to find activities they enjoy. It’s up to you to be a good role model and to help your child enjoy the many benefits of moving their body.


Three Common Mistakes Parents Make When Feeding Their Children

There are two primary causes for childhood obesity. They are a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits. Parents play a strong role in a child’s eating habits and lifestyle. Parents set the rules. They provide the food. They model healthy, or unhealthy, behaviors.

To prevent childhood obesity, several steps need to be taken and they start with feeding children. Avoid these common mistakes and you can help your child prevent or reverse childhood obesity.

#1 Too many sweets – Many parents let their children eat sweets for snacks. They provide their children with sweets for breakfast, such as toaster pops.  And they serve dessert with every lunch and dinner. Dessert and sweets should be a special occasion, not a regular occurrence. Take a look through your cupboards and find the sweets. Toss them, freeze them for a special occasion, or store them.

Bring sweets out on holidays, birthdays, and the occasional dessert. When children become accustomed to eating sweets all of the time, they begin to depend on them for energy. It creates a cycle of blood sugar spikes and plummets. They crave more sweets. The result is an increase in body fat, less energy and eventually insulin resistance. The end result of insulin resistance is diabetes and obesity.

#2 Not enough vegetables – Children need the nutrients vegetables provide. However, most children and adults get far fewer in their daily diet than their body needs. Offer fruits and vegetables at every meal. In fact, offer them at snack time too. And consider offering at least two vegetables at mealtime.

Steam some green beans and throw together a quick salad. Serve vegetables with dips like hummus and low-fat dressings. Ask your child to at least try the vegetables. Eventually, they’ll learn to like them.

#3 Too many starchy carbohydrates – White flour has the same effect on your child’s blood sugar as sugar does. The body burns it quickly. It’s absorbed into the blood stream causing blood sugar levels to spike and then it’s gone. This leaves a person feeling hungry and craving more energy in the form of starchy carbs and sugar. Buy whole grain bread, pretzels and crackers. Offer your children more whole grain cereals and healthy snack foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Parents of all children regardless of age, health and weight make these mistakes. The good news is they’re easy to fix. A little advanced planning and smart grocery shopping will do the trick. Plan your meals. Make sure the cupboards are filled with healthy snacks. And know that a bag of carrots is cheaper than a bag of potato chips.

To your child’s good health!

Lee Jackson, CFCS
Parenting and Family Specialist


Seven Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Child Lose Weight

If your child is overweight they’re not alone. Thousands of children across the country are dealing with the same issues. Childhood obesity is a common problem. The good news is that the problem can be reversed. And parents can help. Here are seven things you can do right now to help your child lose weight.

#1 Make a commitment to eat better yourself. Children look to the adults in their life to be role models. If you’re living an unhealthy lifestyle, you’re showing your child that taking care of their body and their health isn’t important. Right now, today, make a commitment to take better care of yourself. Make healthier choices.

#2 Clean out your cupboards and refrigerator. Chances are your home (like many others) is stocked with food that just isn’t good for you. Chips, cookies and white flour baked goods are all foods that need to be tossed in the garbage. Get rid of the soda and sugary drinks too. If it has high fructose corn syrup or sugar on the beverage label, throw it out.

#3 Replace the junk food with healthy options. Replace pretzels with whole grain pretzels. Replace the chips with whole grain crackers. Buy some cheese and apples for a nice snack. Grab carrots, celery and hummus for a tasty treat. Buy yogurt, nuts, fruit and whole grain cereals too. Children enjoy snacking. Make sure they have healthy snacks to choose from.

#4 Start serving two vegetables at each meal. Vegetables fill you up. They’re also low in calories and extremely good for you. Your child will resist, especially if their sweet tooth is very strong. Be patient. Ask them to try the vegetables. Their sweet tooth will be tamed after time and they will learn to enjoy vegetables.

#5 Make them breakfast in the morning. Make sure breakfast is healthy. There are many options, such as whole grain waffles with a smear of natural peanut butter; yogurt with granola and berries; scrambled eggs and toast. Or try a smoothie with fresh fruit, yogurt and a little protein powder. Your child will start the day with a healthy breakfast that will last for hours.

#6 Get outside with them right now. Get their body moving. Take a walk. Ride your bike. Head to the nearest pool and go for a swim. Do something that gets them off the couch and away from their electronic device of choice.

#7 Sign them up for a sport or activity. There are two causes for weight gain: poor food choices and inactivity. With guidance, food choices will change over time. However, you can help them get active right now. Find out what your child likes to do or is interested in and help them get started. Do they like to:

* Rock climb?
* Ride their bike?
* Dance?
* Ice skate or play hockey?
* Box or learn martial arts?
* Swim?
* Run?

There are lots of fun things a child can do. Activity doesn’t have to feel like exercise.

Help your child start losing weight right now. Clean out those cupboards. Plan and shop for healthy meals and snack options. Help them start moving their body and burning calories today. You’re the best role model they have; be a good one.

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The Most Common Causes for Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a terrible problem. Children as young as five are so overweight that they cannot be children. They cannot play and enjoy their life the way children are meant to. Childhood obesity causes a number of health issues too. Children who are overweight tend to be sick more often too. Understanding childhood obesity can help parents make decisions and prevent obesity with their children.

What Is Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is a health condition. When obesity is diagnosed, it’s generally based on a child’s BMI or body mass index. The Center for Disease Control defines obesity as a BMI greater than the 95th percentile. When you visit your pediatrician your child’s height and weight are ranked on a scale. The scale is then compared to the average child across the country and healthy levels.

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

There are actually many causes of childhood obesity. In some cases there are hereditary elements involved. A child may inherit a thyroid problem or another hormonal problem. If parents and other family members are obese, then children are more likely to be obese as well. However, there are other environmental factors that may have more significant bearing on a child?s health.

Most commonly childhood obesity is caused by poor eating habits and inactivity. Many obese children live on a regular diet of starchy carbs and high fat foods. A fast food diet is a prime cause of obesity amongst children. A diet that is high in sugar, white flour and fat will quickly cause children to have imbalanced blood sugar. They’ll have blood sugar highs and lows which lead to cravings. Cravings lead to more unfortunate food choices and the cycle can quickly get out of hand.

The problem is only further enhanced when parents are unable to or do not provide healthy options. When cupboards are stocked with junk food, children almost always choose the junk over a healthy snack.

Couple the issues of an unhealthy diet with inactivity and you have the makings for childhood obesity. More and more children are left home to fend for themselves after school. When they’re home they sit on the couch and watch television. They play video or computer games. They’re not active outside. They’re not moving their body. They’re not playing. To cut a long story short – children are consuming way more calories than they burn. And the calories they do consume are not providing them with the nutrients they need.

Overweight and obese children face a life of ridicule by their peers. They face health challenges most adults cannot fathom. They also face a shorter lifespan. It’s a very sad prognosis.

The good news is that childhood obesity can be reversed. Children are incredibly adaptable. They can learn new habits. But they cannot do it alone. They need support. They need adults who can help them make responsible and healthy decisions.


Get Outdoors

Ah, the health benefits of fresh air and sunshine are incomparable. Vitamin D from the sunshine helps everything from our metabolism and bones to improving our skin. It’s an essential vitamin. And there’s something that’s just good for the soul when you spend time outside.

Getting Children Outdoors

Children often need to be motivated to get outside. There are so many activities to keep them busy inside that they forget how much fun outside can be. Once they’re outside, they’re free to run, play, climb and jump. They get up and off the couch and move their bodies the way they were intended.

Activity is good for children. But how do you get them outside? There are a few ways you can approach it.

Get Sneaky

Ask your child to walk the dog, go get the mail or have them ride their bike to school instead of driving them every day. They’ll be spending time outside and they won’t even know you’re making them do it. Ask them to rake the leaves, water the garden or mow the lawn. Chances are, once they’ve finished the activity, they’ll stay outside.

Additionally, if you go outside to work with them, you’ll be showing them a good example. You’ll be surprised – if you head outside to read a book or just sit and watch the dog play, children often follow you out there.

Make It Fun

Another way to get your children outside is to make it a fun place to be. Do you have a tree in your yard? Trim it so it’s a good climbing tree. Add a swing to the tree so kids can play on it. Buy outdoor toys that kids want to play with. When they’re bored or during nice weather days, send them outside to play.

Make It a Family Affair

Take bike rides, walks, and hikes as a family. The more time you spend outside, the more your children will realize that it’s a fun place to be. They’ll grow up to appreciate outdoor activity. Be a good role model and your children will naturally follow your reactions. Walk to places or ride your bike when you can. Spend time in your yard and just hang out outside. Create reasons for everyone to be outside.

As your child learns how much fun they can have outside, they’ll learn to appreciate it more. They’ll develop habits that motivate them to spend time outside as they’re growing and when they’ve become adults. Of course, as with most children, you’ll occasionally have to remind them to “go outside and play.”


How to Teach Your Children to Make Smarter Food Choices

One of the leading causes of childhood obesity is poor food choices. When faced with a decision between vegetables and a cookie, most children are going to choose the cookie. However, with a few strategic lessons and a good role model you can teach your children to put their health first. Here’s how.

* Help them learn to like healthy foods. Children often resist many foods including vegetables and whole grains because they’re being forced upon them. Instead of preparing a plate of lima beans and telling your child to eat it all, give them a choice. Prepare a variety of vegetables, side dishes and whole grain options. Encourage your child to try new things.

A child generally has to try something several times before they begin to like it. Be patient. Reward them with verbal praise when they try new healthy foods. If they say they don’t like it, nod your head and praise them for trying it. Let them know that taste buds change and they might like it better next time.

* Make sugar a treat. Many children have become so accustomed to sweet foods that anything that doesn’t have sugar just tastes bad. If your child eats a lot of sweets, start reducing the amount they have available to them. Limit it initially to one treat a day and then eventually consider reducing it to one treat a week.

However, make sure that food doesn’t become a reward for behavior. And don’t forget to check things like cereal which can be high in sugar. Once your child’s sweet tooth has been tamed, they’ll enjoy eating a variety of other healthy foods.

* Involve them in meal planning and preparation. A child that helps you prepare a meal is going to be much more excited about eating it. Invite your children to help you choose meals. Consider putting them in charge of the meal choice for one evening each week. You can provide them with a list of choices. You can also browse cookbooks together. Also consider, if they’re old enough, letting them come to you with a few options.

Also ask your children to participate in shopping and meal preparation. When you’re in the produce area, ask your children to find and pick out the various vegetables and fruits you need for the meal. They’ll learn about their veggies and they’ll be more excited to try them.

* Be a good role model. You cannot expect your child to make healthy choices if you do not. Take good care of your health. Exercise and eat well. Let your children see that taking care of themselves and making good food choices is important.

* Embrace other cultures. Often one of the great ways to help your children appreciate food is to help them learn about what other cultures eat. You can embrace one country each month and make a meal. Have a culture night. Combine it with family game night and make trying new foods something to look forward too.

* Teach your children the “why” behind the food choices. If your children don’t know why they should make healthy choices, they won’t care. Explain about how the body works and what it needs to function properly. Talk to them about how some foods provide lasting energy while other foods burn out quickly and make us feel tired and cranky. Adjust the conversation depending on your child’s age.

Finally, enjoy food. It’s easy to be too rigid about food. This can cause a backlash. It can motivate children to hide food and to feel ashamed. Make sure children know that it’s about moderation, not restriction and deprivation. Good food and healthy choices can go hand in hand.


How to Get Your Child Active and Moving their Body

There are two primary causes for childhood obesity. The first is a poor diet. The second cause for childhood obesity is a sedentary life. While the American lifestyle poses some challenges, overcoming childhood obesity or preventing it is a simple matter. The first step may be to help children become more active.

When you move your body you burn calories. You also learn the joy of being active. Today children are often found sitting in front of their computer. They’re found using their iPod or playing their video games. Or they’re just sitting in front of the television. This is unhealthy and a sure way to gain weight. The key is to get your child active. Here’s how:

#1 Help your child find an activity they enjoy. Exercise doesn’t need to be “exercise.” In fact, you?ll be hard pressed to convince a child to join you at the gym for a spin class or to run around the track. However, football, dancing, martial arts and tennis are fun activities your child can enjoy. The key is to find an activity your child is interested in. Here are a few options to consider:

* Dancing – break dancing/hip hop, ballet, tap, jazz
* Ice skating/Hockey
* Football
* Tumbling/gymnastics
* Rock climbing
* Skateboarding
* Martial Arts/Muay Thai/Jiu jitsu/karate
* Soccer
* Basketball
* Tennis
* Bicycling/Mountain Biking/BMX/Cyclocross
* Swimming

The list really could go on and on. There’s no end to the number of fun activities a child can learn and participate in. Check out your local YMCA for options and leagues.

#2 Support your child through the discomfort. It’s tough to try a new sport or activity. It’s even more difficult if you’re not used to moving your body. It can be embarrassing if you’re overweight. It can be embarrassing if a little exercise makes you feel out of breath. However, a child is never going to move beyond the embarrassment and discomfort without a little push.

Parents and adults need to support a child to be motivated and confident, and to work through the challenges and struggles. They will come out as better people in the end. And imagine how great they’re going to feel when they persevere and learn a new activity. They’ll have fun and lose weight in the process.

#3 Get active with your child. Sometimes the only way to get a child to be more active and to support them is to exercise with them. Ride bikes together. Go for walks and on hikes together. Take a martial arts class together. It’s a great opportunity to be a role model for your child. It can also be a bonding moment. Children learn by the actions of the adults around them. When you embrace movement and activity in your life, your child can too.

In addition to the tips and strategies outlined here, consider putting a limit on electronic devices. Limit the time a child can watch television, surf the internet, play video games or use their iPod. Experts recommend no more than two hours a day. That’s still a lot of time. However, your child won’t miss the electronics if they’re out having fun and getting active.